Frank Warren has successfully built a secrets empire. On an adventurous whim in 2004, he decided to print 3,000 self-addressed post cards and began handing them out to strangers on the streets of Washington, D.C. These cards asked people to anonymously share an “artful secret,” using the post card as a canvas.
Fast forward to 2015: Warren has received hundreds of thousands of secrets from around the world, becoming the basis of his multifaceted PostSecret project. With six New York Times best-selling books, all containing creatively designed secrets, a TED talk that has half a million views, and a blog that’s acquired over 725 million viewers making it the most-visited ad-free blog in the world, Warren’s secret collecting has transformed lives, including his own.
“PostSecret is this wonderful art project, but a little bit of therapy for me,” he says. “Ultimately, maybe I needed the project more than anybody.”
Warren can easily relate to the hundreds of thousands of people that have written in to PostSecret over the years. “Especially young people,” he admits, “who confess secrets that no young person should ever have to carry by themselves.”
As someone who struggled in high school within a dysfunctional environment, Warren’s second book, entitled My Secret, is a collection he curated for the person he was in high school, a book he wishes he had during that time. Some of these secrets are heartbreaking while others are heartwarming.
“It’s been a great joy to read about the hidden acts of kindness people have written about, to understand and see romantic secrets, sexual secrets, hopeful secrets, but also the soulful and silly secrets,” says Warren. “In a deeper sense it’s allowed me to reconcile with secrets I was keeping from myself.”
On September 10, Warren will visit the Long Center in Austin for the highly anticipated PostSecret event. Utilizing an immersive multi-media presentation, he will discuss the most controversial secrets — secrets that were even banned from the books — play emotional voicemails, talk about his own secrets, and invite audience members to come up to share secrets live. One of the more memorable experiences Warren had in Austin was during South By Southwest in 2008 in which an attendee stepped up to share a secret, proposing to his girlfriend in front of more than 2,000 people.
“I really appreciate the spontaneity and creativity of Austin,” says Warren, who’s been called “one of the biggest, brightest, and most influential people on the Internet,” according to Forbes.
Warren encourages people to come to the event with a friend, or alone, saying that sometimes the best part of the PostSecret affair is the connection you make with others. He also says that at nearly every speaking engagement while signing books, people in line start striking up conversations, which eventually leads to the passing of their books — high school yearbook style — allowing strangers to exchange their own secrets.
While the Austin event promises to be a cathartic experience for all in attendance, the PostSecret blog is also a great outlet for finding empathy in what others are experiencing, opening up your mind to the struggles of every day people, while also associating to these anonymous secrets, finding truth in the words offered on the site.
The PostSecret community is exactly what it sounds like — a community, and one that operates in a non-judgmental way (no comments are allowed on the blog). What you see when looking through the years’ worth of archives is that we are more alike than we may initially think and that some of the deepest secrets we keep are at the core of our humanity.
“I believe there are two kinds of secrets,” says Warren. “The ones that we keep from others and those that we hide from ourselves.”
Frank Warren will speak at the Long Center Thursday, September 10 at 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $29 and are still available.